In just a couple of weeks it will be 1 year since a mentally disturbed young man stepped up to his mother’s bedside and shot her to death in her sleep, drove to a local elementary school with guns he had then stolen from her home, and committed murder on a level so disgusting to normal people that it quite literally defies understanding. Six adults – several of them teachers and school officials moving to try to protect their students without any means to do so – and 20 children, all under the age of 8 were simply gunned down before the shooter shot himself just as police arrived at the school. The State of Connecticut released their final report (PDF) of the investigation this week and that report offers details that show many of the initial conclusions and reactions to the shooting were ill-informed and unfounded.
It just as clearly lacks the answer to the one question most people ask when they hear of the murdered: why?
Let’s look at the facts as they are now known and dispense with the most obvious and immediate inaccuracies of the “prevailing wisdom” regarding the attack. The shooter was armed with a rifle, 2 pistols, and a shotgun when he arrived at the school. He left the shotgun in the car and it was not used in the shootings at all. The rifle was a semi-automatic Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S chambered in 5.56 caliber. The 2 pistols were a Glock 20, a gun that fires 10mm rounds, and a Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm. The only time either pistol was used was when the shooter shot himself to death with the Glock 20 and that shot was the only one fired from a pistol during his rampage. The Sig Sauer was not used at all. The shooter fired 154 rounds from the rifle from start to finish. His decision to shoot himself came just as police entered the building; it is likely that the knowledge of their entry into the building was the cause of that decision.
The first responders were not even finished with their work at the site when the assumptions, accusations, and conclusions started to fly. The questions of how the shooter got into the building, what was his connection to the school, if any, how he had gotten the guns in the first place, all were immediately asked and answers were just as quickly assumed. As with nearly every single incident of this type that has occurred in my lifetime, many – if not most – of the assumptions were incorrect. The school has a locked door that must be buzzed open so the assumption was that the school employees were familiar with him and let him in. He had guns, so the accusations were that either no one had done a background check or that the check was faulty. The first story was that his mother worked in the school, then that the shooter, himself, had been a student in the classrooms where he killed those children. Throughout all of this, the assumption was that he was mentally unbalanced. There was a story running around that his mother was about to have him committed and that’s what set off this lunatic killing spree. That guns were simply laying around his mother’s house was all it took to sent him off. All of these assumptions were wrong.
The shooter used the rifle to shoot out the glass beside the locked door and stepped through, completely avoiding the door and rendering the buzz-in system moot. Once inside, there was no physical impediment to reach any room in the building. His mother hadn’t worked there. He, himself, had been a student at the school, but not in the classrooms where he shot and killed those kids. The guns and ammunition were safely and properly stored. His mother’s only mistake was in allowing the shooter to know how to access the safe with the guns. It should be noted that the shooter entered her room while she was asleep and used a .22 caliber rifle to shoot her to death. She likely never saw it coming. That rifle was not taken to the school.
Investigators found that the shooter had spent a great deal of time planning this attack. He kept a list of previous mass-murders. He made sure to bring earplugs with him to avoid an injury to his ears that would have slowed him down or diverted him, somehow. He deliberately damaged his computer’s hard drive to slow any investigation. He removed the GPS system from his car to make sure he couldn’t be tracked if the police were alerted to his mother’s murder sooner than he anticipated. He was most assuredly mentally ill, but he hadn’t simply snapped and gone off on an unthinking, violent outburst.
Reporter and author Emily Miller wrote an article in the Washington Times that details the findings of the report framed in the question of who or what to blame for this shooting. It’s understandable that we seek something to blame. We want to understand why this happened and we want to fix the problem that caused it so it won’t happen again. It’s understandable and even laudable. But it’s not always possible. As important as finding out what, if anything, could have been done to prevent this tragedy is to not lay the blame incorrectly and take action not warranted.